We tend to assess our ability to keep promises based on our good (conscious) intentions. Others assess our ability to keep our promises based on the reality of whether we keep them or not and the impact it has on them. How well we keep our promises is influenced not only by our conscious, good intentions, but also by our conscious, subconscious or unconscious conflicting intentions.
For example, let’s say you and I have an appointment at Starbucks for 4:00 pm. And, I am late to the appointment, even though I “intended” to be on time. What happened? Well, what happened is that something ended up being more important to me than my promise. And my willingness to prioritize that instead of my promise was fueled by another intention that conflicted with the intention of keeping my promise.
Perhaps I was late to the appointment because I tried to squeeze in one too many tasks prior to departing to go to the appointment. So, my intention to get more things done before leaving conflicted with the intention to make the appointment. And the priority I ended up indulging was the one that was more important to me. So, in this example, my personal need for “getting things done” was more important to me than the inconvenience I imposed on you due to my lateness.
Self-reflecting upon the deeper belief system drivers that led to me being late is a powerful form of personal inquiry. It can lead to more clarity as to what gets in the way of creating deeper connection with others. In my example, perhaps I realize that my desire to “squeeze in one more thing” is driven by a need to be efficient because I think that is the key to my success. So, in reality, one of the drivers for me being late was a fear of failure that unconsciously bleeds through in many of my actions.
If I become conscious of that, then I have a chance to interrupt it and choose IN THE MOMENT to take a course to honor my promise. It creates freedom to choose.
Perhaps you are thinking there are sometimes things beyond our control that get in the way. But, to allow that to be the determining factor (unforeseen circumstances) is to buy into a self-limiting orientation.
What if a million dollars was on the line if you were on time to that appointment-be on time and get a million dollar payoff? Would you figure it out and be there? I think so. It would be an extraordinarily rare set of circumstances that could prevent your timeliness in that scenario.
So, in reality, how I relate to promise is a reflection of what I prioritize in my life. Is my word to others and the bond that creates the priority? Or is it my own agenda?
In many ways, the entire realm of promise and promises kept or broken is a crucible for life. A crucible a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances are melted or subjected to very high temperatures. In many cases the metals are melted to separate the impurities in the metal from the pure metal. The impurities in the metal float to the top as it melts.
These impurities are called dross, and are considered rubbish or waste.
If you are wiling to “own your life” in a neutral but honest way, you can observe your relation to promise as a representation of how you relate to your word and a display of your level of caring for others. By “own your life” I mean by getting serious about how you show up in relationships and considering the impact you have on others from their point of view.
Looking at how you handle promises with others can become a crucible that increases the “heat” in how you look at these things, but can serve to help “dross” come to the surface of your awareness so you can jettison unfruitful ways of being that lead to broken promises.
Here is a short list of some of the ways we erode trust in relationships through broken promises:
- Minimizing the importance of the promise-i.e. it is a small thing
- Not considering the impact broken promises are having on others
- Excusing due to circumstances-which gives your power over to the circumstances instead of owning your power
- Ignoring feedback-both verbal and non-verbal from others when we break a promise
- Categorizing promises into important and unimportant categories-what you think is unimportant might be very important to the one the promise was made to.
- Not renegotiating ahead of time when you see you are not going to be able to keep a promise made.
- Not embracing that a renegotiation of a promise is a two way street, not simply a notification to the other and a demand to be released from the promise.
There are more, but that is a good start on how we minimize promise in our life.
Recognizing this and increasing your awareness of it across the board is a powerful first step towards energizing your relationships. Then, actually changing to more fully honor promises in your life can be utterly transformative. It requires you to interrupt all the internal self-justifying conversations that lead to broken promises. It reorients you to consider “the other” and increase your care for them and the impact you have on them.
Promise is a simple thing. Yet, it is profoundly interwoven in personal integrity and is a fundamental building block of effective action that creates results.